Nowadays, when all of the better affordable receivers are chock-full of goodies, flagship models really have to lay on the heavyweight features to represent any sort of value. Onkyo's seven-channel TX-SR800 A/V receiver is a couple of notches below the company's upper-echelon models, but it still wows us. Yes, we rate the SR800 as handsome, but its generic look doesn't have any defining styling cues. Fully loaded receivers such as this one tend to be fairly large components, and the 40-pound Onkyo is hardly demure, measuring 17.2 by 6.8 by 18 inches.
We found the SR800's setup procedure and day-to-day ergonomics delightfully easy to fathom; everything worked just like we thought that it would. Thanks to the extensive setup-menu selections, you can customize the SR800 to suit your preferences and get the best out of your system. The big, comfortable remote is partially backlit, and its array of differently shaped buttons is nicely laid out. The SR800 delivers 100 watts to each of its seven channels and offers a full bounty of processing modes: THX/Dolby Digital EX, Pro Logic II, and DTS-ES Matrix and Discrete, as well as DTS Neo:6. And if that's not enough, the SR800 is one of the first receivers to deliver DTS's newest surround format: DTS 96/24 (see Performance for more).
Like its megabuck competitors, the SR800 proudly wears a THX Select logo, proof that this design has passed a series of THX-devised performance tests and offers proprietary processing of movie soundtracks.
Audio- and video-connectivity options are unusually complete. There are four optical and three coaxial digital inputs, a phono input, and a 7.1 multichannel DVD-Audio (DVD-A)/Super Audio CD input. The line-level preamp outputs for all eight channels offer power-hungry SR800 owners an upgrade path by allowing them to connect a separate power amplifier. There's also a set of Zone 2 outputs that can deliver stereo sound to another room. Video circuitry includes composite-to-S-Video conversion, as well as component-video switching for HDTV-equipped systems.
The SR800 is jam-packed with features and power, so if you're looking to spend a little less cash, check out Onkyo's TX-SR600--it's almost as amply endowed for half the cost. We mated the SR800 with our reference Dynaudio Contour speakers and our Integra DPS-7.2 DVD-A player. Even when we ran all the speakers on the Large setting--where they soak up more power than in the Small setting--the SR800 didn't flinch. After hours of high-decibel listening, the receiver was never more than warm to the touch.
We were curious about how the new DTS 96/24 format would stack up against regular DVD-A discs, but we had only one title, Queen's A Night at the Opera. The disc is encoded with both DTS 96/24 and regular DVD-A tracks, and the two formats sounded very different over the SR800. The DTS tunes were much brighter and bassier, while the DVD-A versions sounded more natural to our ears. But the cool thing about the DTS 96/24 format is that it plays on any DTS-capable DVD unit--and most every deck can play DTS. On the other hand, a straight DVD-A disc requires a higher-end DVD-A player.
Our music trials concluded with Linda Ronstadt's honeyed pipes cavorting on her new DVD-A release, What's New. The receiver's sound was luscious and true.
We tested the SR800's home-theater stamina with The Sum of All Fears. The sound had the breadth and the open quality that lesser receivers never quite achieve. And the Onkyo dredged up oodles of details on the atmospheric soundtrack running through Insomnia. The final climactic scene between Al Pacino and Robin Williams sounded scarily real.
Just before we completed this review, we compared the SR800 to our long-term reference receiver, the Pioneer VSX-27TX, and felt that the Pioneer's tonal balance was more solid and natural. The SR800 was leaner and more forward sounding, so we don't recommend that you pair it with bright speakers.